Cause Marketing: the Basics

Cause Marketing BasicsThose less familiar with the topic often refer to anything a business does, related to a cause or social good, as “cause marketing.” However, cause marketing is simply one initiative to be considered in a company’s overall cause strategy, as I like to call it.

Cause marketing or cause-related marketing occurs when a non-profit organization and a for-profit business partner together to create benefits for both the cause and the business by connecting financial or in-kind donations to product sales or consumer actions.

I’ll illustrate it simply with a few examples…

  • donating $1.00 to a non-profit when a Facebook page is liked;
    • donating a pair of shoes when one pair is purchased (think TOMS);
      • donating 10% of revenues from the sale of a specific product;
        • asking the consumer to round up their purchase to the next dollar amount and the difference is donated to a specified cause.


        These are just four examples. Of course, there are many other ways to approach cause marketing. In most cases, however, what distinguishes cause marketing from other types of company and cause initiatives is that the business’s level of giving, to the cause, is dependent upon consumer sales or actions.

        What Cause Marketing Isn’t

        Corporate Philanthropy. If a company were to simply write a check, this would be considered philanthropy. It can be done publicly or anonymously; direct from the business or by grants through a foundation supported by the business. But it is generally a rather passive activity. It’s often called checkbook philanthropy.

        Certainly philanthropy results from cause marketing. But, it is not its sole purpose. Cause marketing has benefits for both the business and the cause that go far beyond just the money raised. We’ll cover those later in this post. Cause marketing is much more interactive. The business and the nonprofit work more closely together, in partnership, to execute a cause marketing initiative.

        Cause Promotion. When a company provides money, resources, or in-kind contributions (products or services) to promotions that increase awareness or concern about a cause, or support fundraising or volunteer recruitment; we call this cause promotion. This includes event sponsorship. It could also mean managing your own promotion campaign such as the Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue Project. The company hosted 21 beach clean-up and restoration events, from coast-to-coast, in partnership with the Surfrider Foundation in 2011.

        Social Marketing. Whereas cause promotion focuses on awareness, social marketing focuses on behavior changes intended to improve safety, public health, the environment, or community well-being. The business supports the development or implementation of the behavior change campaign. Remember the partnership of Pampers and the SIDS foundation encouraging parents and caretakers to put babies on their back to sleep? Behavior change…social marketing.

        Just for Large Corporations. Any business, no matter how large or small, can plan and execute a cause marketing initiative. The key, however, is to scale the initiative to the size of your organization and manage expectations of what you can realistically accomplish. It’s very important, also, that you are clear on potential outcomes for both the cause and your business.

        What Cause Marketing Does

        Cause marketing, being a win-win type of arrangement, has several potential benefits for both the cause and the business.

        For the Non-Profit

        • Increased revenue
        • Access to new audiences
        • Greater visibility of the cause and its message
        • Connections to the company’s network of employees, team members, vendors, etc.
        • Access to marketing, strategy, and other business expertise


        For the Business

        • Access to new markets or audiences
        • Broader awareness of your products and services
        • Increased sales
        • Increased brand awareness and image
        • Competitive advantage over other brands
        • Employee or team member retention


        In my mind, these benefits are developed and enhanced, over time, through a company’s overall cause strategy. By focusing on strategic partnership with a small number of carefully selected causes, and working towards mutual benefit for both cause and business will create a much more sustainable way to create and leverage impact for good.

        Now it’s your turn. Are your wheels turning yet? Do you have some ideas on how you might incorporate cause marketing into your small business or solo-preneur practice? Already doing it? Share in the comments below!

About Julie Smith

As Leader and Chief Marketing Strategist at NetMarketing Navigator, Julie consults with clients on website planning, marketing strategy, and cause-related strategy/marketing. Together with the Navigator Team,they specialize in custom WordPress website design, brand design, and graphic design.

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